Father’s Day and I don’t get along for one obvious reason: My father died when I was in high school.
So of course, every force-fed story on social media talks about what to buy your father, what outdoor activities to take him to, why father’s don’t have to be the biological kind in order to love a kid, etc. Honestly, I usually put up a blinder to this flavor of media until a good three days after the holiday. It’s done me good so far.
Then I saw this GQ article where Chris Pratt talks about what he learned from he recently departed father.
“The perfect metaphor: Dad left me a compass that didn’t work. And I still—the sentiment—I’ll take it out and look.” He laughs again. “And be like, ‘Aw fuck, I better use my phone’.”
Much like Pratt’s father, mine was a tough guy who found himself unable to cope with seriously limiting physical ailments. Dad was a diabetic who didn’t give a shit about doctor’s orders and diets. His lower spine was shattered in a motorcycle accident that should have killed him. Before he finally passed, a good chunk of his heart stopped working. He died and was resuscitated numerous times during surgeries. I spent my childhood terrified of hospitals because I never knew if Dad would roll back out the doors to smile at me again.
Dad’s physical problems weren’t the only hiccup in his life. He suffered from what I can only now describe as a horrific mixture of chemical dependency and undiagnosed bipolar disorder. We didn’t know what bipolar was when he would hole up in the master bedroom for days on end and fly into rages about nothing at all. Life was all about the eggshells for a long time. If Dad was having a good day, we all were. When he didn’t . . . I’d beg to go to a friend’s house for a long weekend.
But like Pratt, I eventually learned to appreciate the lessons Dad taught me instead of dwelling on the bad. He was who he was. Death didn’t make Dad a martyr. It just means he’s not here to tell me I’ve used the wrong fake blood on a prop or that a medical emergency in my latest book isn’t as life-threatening as I thought, or even make fun of me for staying across the room from a snake securely locked in its cage. Through Dad’s emotional demons, I learned that I’m not okay. Bipolar is an issue in our family, one which passed not only to myself, but to my sibling.
The one I disowned because they became exactly like Dad. They didn’t learn these vital lessons. Didn’t pay attention when we left because of his drug use and emotional abuse. I tried to pass on what I learned, but it didn’t work.
So today, not only do I remember the lessons Dad taught me–from the silly and gory to the nightmares lurking in our brain chemistry–but also the sibling who is learning the hard lessons about emotional instability and drug abuse on their own.
Listen to your fathers, guys. Even if what comes out of their mouth is wrong and ugly, it’s still something to learn from. A behavior you now know never to repeat.
The best lesson I learned from Dad? Be weird. It’s okay. If weird makes you happy, go for it. Don’t let anyone tell you horror movies and books are for freaks. If that’s true, then you’re the best freak out there.
Today, I’m going to be weird. Tomorrow I’ll be even weirder. Because Dad said it’s nothing to be ashamed of.